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GDRI (Game Developer Research Institute) is a website dedicated to researching the companies and people involved with video game development, especially the hidden world of contract development. To find out more about who we are and what we do, read our about page. Otherwise, please click one of the links on the menu to the left, or read our blog below. (For increased enjoyment, go to a random page.)

The EX Stands for Savings

by CRV (talk) | Originally posted February 19, 2022

You can say what you want about Konami today, but the Contra franchise has been mistreated for years. After successful outings on the 8- and 16-bit systems, the games were largely hit-or-miss. There was no equivalent of Metal Gear Solid or Symphony of the Night to take the series to the next level.

While it is a decent game, Contra Advance: The Alien Wars EX (Contra: Hard Spirits in Japan) definitely falls into the "miss" category. I'm not sure why this happened, but the Game Boy Advance became a sort of dumping ground for Super NES ports. I don't ever recall anybody claiming these were better than the original versions, but Contra Advance seems particularly lacking.

The graphics have taken a hit — they look very washed out — as has the sound. You can only carry one weapon, and you have no bombs. The overhead stages from Contra III are gone, too, replaced with stages from Contra: Hard Corps. I would think the GBA could handle those, but I guess not.

Some Japanese sites will tell you the prolific Tose was the developer of Contra Advance, but an examination of the credits reveals a more complicated situation. The director and one of the assistant directors appear to be from Tose, but the other assistant director/game designer was the president and CEO of Cing, the company behind cult favorites like Hotel Dusk: Room 215. One of the programmers was on Cing's board of directors. At least four of the staff members (including the aforementioned assistant director and programmer) previously worked at Riverhillsoft, where Cing's founders came from. Finally, the game came out in 2002, three years after Cing was started; I think that's enough to firmly establish Cing's involvement.

Then what's the connection between Tose and Cing? It's simple, but little known: Cing was once a subsidiary of Tose. Mind you, the earliest mention of this I could find in a Tose annual corporate report is from 2006.

Tose's 2009 annual report notes when this all came to an end: "CING, INC. is no longer considered a subsidiary, since the Company no longer maintains a management relationship in terms of determining CING, INC. corporate policies." (Tose's Tadashi Nishi had served as Cing's chairman.) Cing went bankrupt in 2010.

Post updated November 14, 2022

Thunder Spirits Are Go

by CRV (talk) | Originally posted December 31, 2021

It didn't start or end on the Mega Drive/Genesis, but the Thunder Force series will forever be entwined with the legacy of Sega's 16-bit home console, widely considered among the best shooters on the system. Yet here it is on the Super Famicom/Super NES.

I'm not sure when or how I first played Thunder Spirits, whether it was an actual cartridge or through emulation. But I remember being put off by it; it just seemed like a bad port of Thunder Force III. I think others felt the same way, which is a big reason why the game has a less than sterling reputation today.

In actuality, Thunder Spirits is based on Thunder Force AC, the arcade version of Thunder Force III with a few changes made. Now that you know that, relax. It's Thunder Force, so give it a chance.

Not that there aren't any problems with the game. There's lots of slowdown, for one. Personally, I don't care for the default button placement and firing speed. (Turn on the rapid fire!) And the music and sound effects aren't as good as the Mega Drive/Genesis version's.

Let it be known: Technosoft developed Thunder Spirits themselves. They were also rumored to have done some Super Famicom pachinko games for Telenet Japan, but there is so far no evidence to suggest that is true. According to the person who runs the unofficial Thunder Force IV 25th anniversary Twitter account, someone who worked at Technosoft, Thunder Spirits was the only Super Famicom game they did, as far as said person knew.

If you can put aside its issues, Thunder Spirits still has the spirit of Thunder Force. Just sit back and enjoy, as far as we know, Technosoft's only game for any Nintendo system.

Post updated January 1, 2022

Witch (Arcade)

by CRV (talk) | Originally posted September 20, 2021

It's a pinball game. It's a gambling game. It's a pinball/gambling game.

Actually, gambling is illegal in Japan; you're playing for tokens. This is what they call a "medal game."

Witch has the elements of a decent pinball game. It has good control and graphics, some nice music from Fumito Tamayama (Decap Attack), and bonus tables similar to the ones in the Crush series.

Unfortunately, none of it is fleshed out, and there's a time limit, so you won't get to play very long anyway. Most everything in this game exists only to bring up numbers on your bingo card. Yes, the pinball game is just window dressing for what is really a bingo game.

A pinball/bingo game might sound weird, but the real "WTF" is what's hidden in the ROMs — data from an unreleased Famicom RPG called Shounen Majutsushi Indy (aka Indy the Magical Kid).

Indy made some headlines in 2019 when a prototype turned up on Yahoo! Auctions in Japan. A collector there won, so don't expect to see it again any time soon. It'd be kinda funny if the whole game was hidden in here.

Alas, that is not the case. Only the credits from Indy have been found, but they are the most damning evidence of who developed this unusual game. Why? Because they mention the name of the company.

That company's name? Graphic Research, also known as GRC. GRC did a lot of work for Vic Tokai, whose name appears on Witch (at least on the Sega version). They also seem to have been involved in the medal game business. Sound designer Fumito Tamayama worked on Witch, as mentioned before, and would have been employed by GRC at the time. (Oh, and there's something from Widget on the NES [1], but that hasn't been documented anywhere.)

Post updated February 18, 2022

Frogger (Game Gear)

by CRV (talk) | Originally posted June 19, 2021

One frog. One mission. To save lives.

The Frogger arcade game was created by Konami, but it was a massive hit for Sega, the game's distributor. Early in the life of their Game Gear system, they decided to revisit the golden age classic, but this portable iteration would not see the light of day until the prototype appeared in the early 2000s.

That's a shame, too. Some of the games Konami came out with later are fine, but this Game Gear version is all you really need from a new Frogger. No voice acting, not much of a story, no puzzles — it simply adapts and enhances the original formula.

The objective has been changed up a bit. In the arcade game, you crossed a road and a river to get to the other side. Here, you still have to avoid traffic and water, but now you must also rescue frogs found throughout the stage and bring them back home.

And you won't just be doing it across a modern highway, either. You'll even go back in time to ancient Japan, where you'll have to hop over lava, and to prehistoric times, where you must dodge giant beasts.

The other big change is the addition of the tongue mechanic, several years before the Hasbro game finally introduced it to the public. You can scarf up flies and fruit for bonus points.

As was alluded to earlier, Game Gear Frogger was never released. The game languished on magazine release lists for months. Some have speculated it was because of legal issues between Konami and Sega. A source close to development thought it was rejected because the game was too dated. That didn't stop Sega from bringing out Pengo for the Game Gear's Japanese launch, though.

Said source also confirmed Game Gear Frogger was developed by S-Plan, which was run by former Sanritsu planner/graphic designer Junzo Shimada.

The American company Majesco re-released the Game Gear in 2001. The back of the box touted Frogger with a screenshot from what looks like the Genesis version, but it was quietly cancelled. It's unknown if this would have been the old version Sega passed on or some new version commissioned by Majesco.

Post updated June 21, 2021

Spanky no Orifuru Puzzle! (Super Famicom)

by CRV (talk) | Originally posted June 12, 2021

A preview of Spanky no Orifuru Puzzle!

Poachers beware! Spanky is coming to get you!

In this unreleased Super Famicom puzzle game from Natsume, a young aristocratic lady orders her servant Sebastian to bring her all the animals from around the world. Unfortunately for them, feisty feline Spanky (or is that Spunky?) is following right behind. At each locale is a new rival for Spanky and another opportunity to free the animals from their caged existence.

Spanky no Orifuru Puzzle! looks like your standard falling block puzzler. Match a colored key with animals of the same color to clear them from the screen. The better you play, the more junk blocks drop on your opponent's side of the screen. If your opponent's side fills up first, you win.

This is another one of those unreleased games that got little to no press at the time. If it weren't for a video that appeared on Youtube in 2010 (see below), I might not have gotten around to writing this post many years later.

According to the video description, Spanky "has no ROM cartridge;" does that mean a ROM file is in the hands of a select few? Not much else has turned up since the video was uploaded.

Given the game's low profile, you might be surprised to find out that Natsume USA showed it off at Winter CES in January 1995 (four months before the first E3, incidentally). It was featured in the 1995 Video Game Preview Guide, a supplement included with US magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly (see right).

Natsume was set to publish Spanky, but another name appears on the title screen — Workman. I assume this is the name of the developer, and I assume it is the same Workman profiled on this site. Workman was a company founded in 1993 by former Now Production staff. Despite the Natsume connection, this probably has nothing to do with Spanky's Quest, which starred a monkey.

Taito Grand Prix (Famicom) and Formula One: Built to Win (NES)

by CRV (talk) | Originally posted November 28, 2020

Taito Grand Prix is not just a game; it's a lifestyle simulation. Compete in races for prize money, upgrade your car, and move up the ranks. I feel like Mario Andretti already.

Formula One: Built to Win from Seta is not just a game; it's a lifestyle simulation. Compete in races for prize money, upgrade your car, and move up the ranks. I feel like Mario Andretti already.

Talk about déjà vu. It's uncanny how similar these two games are, right down to the modes of play and cars you can drive. But why is this?

For a long time, I thought perhaps there was some staff cross-pollination between the developers. Evidence suggests Now Production was responsible for Taito Grand Prix, while evidence points to Winkysoft as the culprit behind Formula One. Both companies were in Osaka, and both companies made games for Taito.

Maybe Formula One started out as a sequel to Taito Grand Prix? Incidentally, Formula One never came out in Japan, and Taito Grand Prix never left.

I suppose the most likely explanation is that Formula One is just a big ripoff of Taito Grand Prix. But don't let me color your judgment. Take a look...

Post updated May 14, 2021

Car Race (MSX)

CRV (talk) 00:09, 20 April 2020 (UTC)

Everyone's got to start somewhere, and everyone includes Kan Naito.

Naito is better known as the founder of Climax Entertainment, the company behind Landstalker, Dark Savior, and Runabout, but he made his professional debut as a teenager back in 1983 with this MSX title. (He wrote about it in his column in Mega Drive Fan magazine.)

[UPDATE!] Naito has corrected me on Twitter; his first game was actually Neko no Bouken (猫の冒険) for the PC-6001. Now back to Car Race...

It's a rather simple game: Drive your car down the road, avoid other cars, and pick up fuel.

It's also somewhat counter-intuitive because the faster you drive, the less fuel you use. You need to step on the gas right away, or you will drain quickly.

Car Race was published by Ample Software, where Naito was working part-time. Yuichiro Itakura and future Genius Sonority president Manabu Yamana also worked there. Itakura left and started Zap, where he was joined again by Naito and Yamana. Naito and Yamana then headed over to Chunsoft, where they worked on Dragon Quest games, and the rest is history.

Post updated December 15, 2020

Chase H.Q. (X68000)

CRV (talk) 05:04, 11 April 2020 (UTC)

The Sharp X68000 is renowned for its high-quality arcade ports, but they can't all be winners.

Take Chase H.Q....please. Just look at it. The sprites are all pixelated, the scaling is choppy, and there are no branching paths. The music is pretty rockin', though.

One tweet alleges the X68000 version of Chase H.Q. was supposed to be published by Dexter under the name Chaser H.Q. So far I have not been able to substantiate that.

Instead, it was released as a genuine port via Brother's Takeru vending machines through Tierheit, which was actually a brand used by developer Falcon. Falcon did not develop it, however; it was by a group called RAY-NET.

I'm not sure if it's accurate to call RAY-NET a doujin group; the aforementioned tweet refers to them as an "amateur group." They also wrote tools and music drivers that were also used in games like the X68000 version of Pipe Dream.

Five Games Nobody "Finished" (So Finish Them!)

CRV (talk) 03:33, 5 April 2020 (UTC)

(Presumably people have beat these games, just not on Youtube where we can all see it and get the credits.)

1. Spiral Wave (PC Engine)

An obscure game even in Japanese circles, I think. It's a third-person shooter with a lot of text. Fortunately, I did find someone who said they worked on it at Gingham Soft.


Wing Arms/Musashi/Formation Attack

CRV (talk) 03:59, 29 March 2020 (UTC)

Formation Attack ad

Someday I need to write up a post about Wing Arms for the Saturn (or maybe this is enough). It's a 3D flight game featuring WWII-era aircraft where you shoot down other planes and ships and such. It was by a little-known developer called Bell that had some former T&E Soft members on staff.

Programmer Tetsuya Yamamoto revealed in The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2 that Wing Arms is essentially an update of a PC (Japanese DOS/V) game Bell made called Musashi. While Wing Arms has different missions, the sole mission of Musashi is to sink a giant battleship. There's very little information about Musashi, but I did find a page with some screenshots.

A few months later, I noticed another Bell programmer had a game called Formation Attack on his Facebook profile. I figured this was some other game. Then by chance I found an ad for it in Computer Gaming World Issue 121 (see right). It looks to be the US version of Musashi.

There's no proof this ever came out, and I've never even heard of Spunky Computers U.S.A. before. It's an odd name and an odd logo, and I can find no record of such a company existing.

Hmmm...I suppose this post had no point to it, but what else do you have to do?

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